Welcome to the point of the summer when I don’t remember why I chose a career in cooking when I only want to eat about five things — tomatoes, melon, iced coffee and/or drinks, and popsicles — until the heat and humidity recede. The fifth, pasta with homemade basil pesto, is a craving that arrives like clockwork every July. It usually comes with very specific instructions, a list of everything I think tastes good with, near, or stirred into pesto pasta, things like white beans, grilled and marinated zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, and bocconcini (or tinier!) mozzarella. And that’s it, that’s my whole menu for the rest of July. I’ll come back when I’m interesting again, okay?
… Fine, here’s the thing: I’ve never written up a recipe here for basil pesto with few bells or whistles because whenever I want to share a recipe for something really basic, I tend to talk myself out of it. Doesn’t the internet have enough pesto recipes, Deb? Why speak if you’re not adding something new to the conversation? This is my constant internal monologue. And yet! I do keep notes for how I make pesto on my computer to refer to every July because almost every recipe I find on front-page Google results is missing information I need, like a weight measurement for basil (good luck finding two cups of basil leaves that weigh the same or guessing how much of a larger plant you’d need for a couple cups of leaves), an accurate estimate of the amount of olive oil you’ll need, a reminder to please toast your pine nuts for maximum flavor, and, most importantly, the amount it makes and the amount of pasta the yield can generously coat. Yes, what I just described is called “a recipe.” And yes, this is a recipe blog. Maybe it’s time to finally close this loop.
A few more notes/tips:
– Pesto comes from the Italian word pestare, which means “to pound” or “to crush,” as pestos were traditionally made in a large mortar with a pestle. Strictly speaking, pesto is a generic term for anything that’s made by pounding or grinding, something I take great liberty with on SK (see: walnut pesto, almond pesto) but basil pesto, pesto alla genovese, is so popular, it’s usually what comes to mind when people think of pesto.
– Technique: I use a food processor but you can absolutely make it in a mortar and pestle, or with a mezzaluna, or just a regular knife. Just mince, mince, mince away at each stage instead of grinding.
– Ingredients: Pine nuts (pignoli) are the traditional nut here but I find that almonds also work well. Just toast them first: Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes, tossing once or twice for even color. The cheese is usually Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.
– Pasta shape: The most traditional shape for pesto is trofie, a short, thin, twisted pasta from Liguria made with semolina (hard wheat) flour. The shape is rolled by hand — no pasta machine required (hooray). I cannot find the photos anywhere now but I made it a few years ago. However, I never have great luck with hand-formed shapes because it’s hard to keep them all the same thickness, which leads to some pieces overcooking while others take forever to cook. I have faith you’ll do better; here’s a good lead.
– Make sure your basil leaves are dry, or the mixture gets kind of mucky looking (yes, I’m a professional writer, why do you ask?).
– Don’t skip the salt. Absolutely skip the lemon. I always say that I think we often add salt when we’d be better off adding acidity to foods. Here, I feel the opposite; skip the lemon, which is not traditional and discolors the basil. Season it well.
– Always leave some cheese on the side, because you’ll want extra to finish your dish with.
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Pasta with Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto)
- 1 pound (455 grams) dried pasta, any shape (shown here: gemelli; more traditional: trofie)
- 2 ounces (55 grams) aged parmesan or pecorino romano
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup (35 grams) toasted pine nuts
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heaped 4 cups fresh basil leaves (3 ounces or 85 grams), from approximately a 5-6-ounce bundle with stems
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil, plus more as needed
Add garlic to empty food processor bowl and pulse a few times, until roughly chopped. Add pine nuts and pulse several times, until chopped very small, but don’t run the machine so long that it becomes a seed butter. Add a 1/2 teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper, and basil leaves, and run machine until basil leaves are finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in olive oil. Add 1/4 cup parmesan and pulse a couple times to mix. Add more salt to taste — I like between 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond brand (less of any other brand) kosher salt total. Because I use it primarily as a pasta sauce, I want it well-seasoned.
By hand: Grate cheese on the small holes of a box grater. Finely chop garlic and pine nuts together on a cutting board. Add basil leaves and continue to chop until they’re minced. Scrape into a large bowl, add salt and pepper, and drizzle in olive oil, stirring. Add cheese, stir to combine. Season with additional salt to taste.
Both methods: You can use this right away or keep it in the fridge for up to a week.
To assemble: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. We do not finish this sauce with pasta water over heat (which cooks it further) so aim for the final doneness you prefer. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. I usually let it cool a bit from here because I like pesto on lukewarm or room temperature pasta. When you’re ready, add half of pesto sauce and stir to coat, then add more, a spoonful at a time, until you pasta is as sauced as you like. Add a few drizzles of olive oil if needed to keep sauce moving. Finish with extra parmesan and serve as-is or with a few extras (see below).
Extras: I usually serve pasta with pesto with white beans, halved cherry tomatoes, and bocconcini (or tinier) mozzarella, and grilled and marinated zucchini, either to eat alongside or to stir in, your choice. To make the zucchini, cut a couple zucchini (or shown here, pattypan squash, hoping that flower-shaped slices would entice my zucchini-resistant kids) into thin slices; drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper. Grill or broil until dark brown in spots on both sides. Toss with salt, pepper, 1 to 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and a spoonful of capers. Serve at room temperature. P.S. Sometimes I entirely skip the pasta and just put this pesto on the beans, zucchini, tomatoes, and mozzarella. This has a similar flavor profile.
131 comments on pasta with pesto genovese
I love, love, love pesto – and my summer regret is that despite planting seven basil plants, I don’t have enough for pesto without compromising my plants for other uses. Next year! One more raised bed just for herbs!
I actually prefer walnuts (the horror!) in my pesto – they’re easier to get, cheaper, a and you don’t risk that weird aftertaste that some pine nuts have. I’ve always used Julia Turshen’s recipe from Small Victories (a GEM of a cookbook) but will try this asap.
My Dad and I make pesto together every summer (except I guess we’ll be making it separately this year, due to the pandemic, sigh…) and we use walnuts too! I am allergic to pine nuts–when I eat them, everything tastes bitter for three days. Walnuts are a good sub and I think I’d prefer them to almonds as they are a bit more tender.
Dad and I don’t use a recipe, we just taste a lot as we go. We did discover one year that it’s better to under garlic to start than over-garlic, since you can always add more. And I love garlic so I don’t skimp, we just go slowly with it.
While trofie are considered traditional, I’ve almost always seen pesto alla genovese served over trenette which are almost identical to linguine. The green beans and potatoes are also traditional. I often replace the pine Nuts for sunflower seeds which are just as delicious although not traditional at all!!!
Yes, to me pesto is an add-pulse-the-processor-and-taste project–the recipe is just a starting point.
You are probably not allergic to Italian pine nuts. Most of the pine nuts sold in the US are from China and they cause that metallic taste in many people. The Italian pine nuts are much, much more delicious. Sadly, they cost a fortune but worth it.
I had that problem with pine nuts, too! They’re from different species, I learned when I eventually found out what caused the bitter taste. I’ve been avoiding pine nuts ever since because it’s really hard to be sure where they came from, at least in the stores I have access to. I’ll have to try this with almonds.
Sally, I used to struggle with basil output from my plants- turns out I was pruning them wrong (aka not at all). Once they get two layers of leaves pinch off the top set, your plant will now start to branch at the first set of leaves. Prune, prune, prune all summer and you’ll end up with tons of basil!
Thanks Rachel! I’ll try this next year – it’s too late now, right?
No, SallyT, not too late – just pinch off a long stem back to where there are new side leaves developing, and keep the plant well watered.
This is very helpful to me also, thank you! Can you explain in more detail please? What do you mean 2 layers of leaves?
If you google how to prune basil, there are some good illustrations to guide you.
Hi Sarah, I had read about pruning basil from a book and it showed a picture, but I also didn’t quite get it until I watched it being done in a Youtube video. I’m sorry, I don’t remember the title of the one I watched but if you search for “how to prune basil so it will grow more” you should find it.
I agree with the walnuts. That’s how my Italian mother used to make it. She would serve with taglarini (spelling?) which I’ve been unable to find, but it’s similar to linguini, so I use that.
I’m not sure how much basil you’ve grown, but if you harvest it from the clusters and leave the two little nodes where more leaves are emerging, the plant becomes bushy, and you get more with each harvest. The plant lasts a long time this way. Just don’t let it flower, as I’m sure you already know.
Thank you for the weights!! Also I don’t know if this is blasphemy for Italians, but I started blanching my basil and rolling it in paper towel to stop up the moisture before making pesto and the color is so much more vibrant and lasting. I had a bumper crop of basil last year and I am still thawing frozen blocks of pesto that stay green in the fridge.
I read about that on DALS – but does blanching it make it taste better, or just affect the color? thanks!
It does not affect taste (at least in my opinion), just color.
Yes I do that too.. in fact I commented on it above… learned that trick from Michael Chiarello and since he’s all about Italian food it didnt seem at all blasphemous!!
Not to throw a wrench in your pesto bubble, but I learned a few quirky additions from a chef in Tuscany that has made such a difference. Hopefully you’re intrigued enough to try it! To your recipe above, add 1-2 small boiled and peeled potatoes and ~5-7 blanched green beans. The potatoes make the pesto creamy and absorb extra oil (hooray for non-greasy pesto) and the green beans keep the green color but mellow out any harsh flavors. Mix with hot pasta, thin with pasta water if necessary, and devour.
I made a pesto potato salad last week! Pesto w walnuts & nutritional yeast (to make dairy free), yes to lemon…and dressed boiled baby potatoes, string beans, fresh red onion & cannellini beans. Great warm or cold!
Is this any good without garlic, for us sensitive people? Would you add anything to sub for garlic?
Pesto is a simple sauce and garlic is a pretty main component, so I think leaving it out would make it a bit lackluster…
We’re a garlic/onion free house and I make pesto without garlic all the time. The flavors are strong enough on their own and we don’t miss it. Before becoming sensitive I stopped using garlic because I found it overpowering. You’ll actually taste the pine nuts without that pungent garlic in the way :)
I’m so glad you thought this recipe was worth recording as I made this the other day and had the exact questions you had. How much is a cup of basil, how compacted is compacted, how much do I need for our family? I under compacted the basil and it was a little lack lustre. Thankful they grow basil in greenhouses so I can enjoy it in winter here in Australia.
I lived in northern Italy for a long time and my honorary mama hated garlic and onion. Her pesto (always sans garlic) is the absolute best I have ever had, and when I have it with garlic now, it’s almost too much.Basil, olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and don’t add cheese until the end. You can top off the jar with oil and it stays green for ages in the fridge. She’d send me home to the states with tightly sealed jars at the end of every summer with the instructions to just add the pecorino right before serving so the pesto didn’t go bad. It lasts forever that way.
Sorry for the long-winded answer, but her pesto with orecchiette is my choice for my last meal on Earth, so it’s absolutely possible to make sans garlic and have it taste good. Just make sure everything else is super fresh and you are golden.
Lots of Italians make it without garlic.
I don’t like raw garlic. So after I take my toasted nuts out of the skillet, I put in my chopped garlic and some olive oil and let it mellow together in the skillet as it cools. I pulse the nuts and salt, then basil, then the garlic-oil. Last is cheese. Taste taste yum
This is how it was served to me my first time in Positano. Odd that it is rarely mentioned because it is so good!
As far as keeping the color and mellowing the pesto, I’ve used carrot tops in addition to basil in my pesto. The mellower, grassy flavor is one my kids like better than the straight-up basil, and it uses all of those beautiful carrot greens!
I’ve been making the Silver Palate recipe for years, and it works well every time. 2 cups of basil, 1 cup of walnuts, 4 (but I use 3) large garlic cloves, one cup of olive oil and something near a cup of Reggiano parmesan cheese. They want another half cup of cheese, but I’m not a fan of that. And lots of salt and a few grindings of pepper. I’ve made it a hundred times. Well, maybe 50, but who’s counting? Now if only I can grow scads of basil on the west coast of Florida like I did in Northern Virginia. Maybe I’ll try planting it again. You’ve reminded me, so thank you.
Woah. I’ve had many plates of tofie al pesto in Cinque Terre with chunks of potatoes and green beans mixed in with pasta and pesto but you are saying to blitz them IN the pesto? I am intrigued!
Jen, Yes all blitzed in!
Pesto alla genovese is supposed to have green beans and potatoes in it. Weird that Deb doesn’t mention that and then adds tomatoes and bocconcini instead which are totally not traditional and add acid, water and gooey to cold cheese balls. The potatoes add starch for the creaminess factor and the green beans add crunch. It is totally delicious and I think I’ll try her pesto with the correct ingredients (crazy bumper crop of beans this year!) saturday night! Can’t wait.
Ps. to the responder above, you don’t blitz the potatoes & beans in the food processor: you add them as pieces into the pasta. Boil the sliced potatoes along with the pasta and add the beans in a few minutes before the pasta is done.
In the version I learned you did blitz them all in!
Agreed – It’s a traditional Ligurian combination: pesto, pasta, potatoes and Italian flat green beans. P.S. There is a frozen version sold in grocery stores – when I need to rely on it versus homemade, I add a little bit of flat Italian green parsley (whirl the thawed pesto with the pasta in food processor). Makes the green more vibrant and adds a bit of ‘fresh’ taste.
I’ve gotten into the habit of quickly blanching the basil leaves before making pesto. It helps retain the bright green color – especially if it will be stored. If I’m making a single batch, I will usually just blanch quickly in water I will eventually use for the pasta. Super simple step to add in and worth it to see that super bright green color!
Yum! This sounds like a perfect summer dinner for me. I love pesto but haven’t made my own in ages because it never really came out the way I imagined and I gave up wasting ingredients. Now that I have your perfect recipe I’d love to try but as you mentioned it’s often difficult to find good fresh pine nuts. What is your go-to source in NYC?
I got these from Whole Foods. Walnuts work as well.
Can this be made vegan?
nutritional yeast is great in pesto as a sub for cheese! you could also use vegan parmesan but almost all vegan pesto recipes use nutritional yeast.
I use white miso in place of the cheese (and use walnuts, which appears to also be in debate). It makes a super substitution, to the point where that’s how I make my pesto even though I’m not vegan.
try avocado instead of the cheese, in fact you can make something close to pesto with just basil, olive oil and avocado, as avocado is both a bit cheesy and nutty.
I’ve been on a pesto kick this summer too. One thing I found out accidentally (when I ran out of basil) is that I actually prefer pesto to be half basil and half spinach. I actually use frozen spinach thawed and squeezed. In addition to the taste that I prefer, it also stays green much longer! I also recently (due to a pandemic pantry) moved to almonds from pinenuts and I think I prefer it now.
I was about to post about adding spinach, but you beat me to it. Straight basil is a bit too strong for me (and I LOVE spinach).
Good recipe, but how would Deb produce less than that? With pine nuts so pricey, toasted almonds are good here, and I have used toasted walnuts as well. They are a little more astringent, but if that’s all you have and you don’t want to go to the grocery store (sort of creepy sometimes these days) the walnuts work fine. But make sure they are toasted as well. Gemelli is perfect, sort of a short strand but easy to toss, easy to eat. Thank you, Deb. Carry on!
Deb, you are blowing my mind here. I thought the reason recipes include non-traditional lemon/citric acid was to preserve the bright color but you’re saying the opposite?
Being married to a guy with southern Italian roots pesto in the summer is a must. This is so far the only pesto recipe like ours. Although, I do use the Blendtec with a splash of water. I liked the part where you said no to lemon.
Re drying the basil: thank you so much for this hint! I made pesto from wet leaves this week and couldn’t figure out why my beautiful fresh basil turned into this dark green-brownish mess. Problem solved!
This sounds wonderful a d pasta is quick to cook in the summer. I’m waiting for the heat to subside before doing proper cooking, but I can manage pasta and will try your delcious sauce and have all the ingredients on hand!
I adore pesto and make a vegan version that’s delicious. I am currently on an elimination diet because of food sensitivities and one of the foods I can’t have is lemon so yesterday when I made pesto I squeezed a fresh orange in instead of the lemon juice and it was so good I think I’ll do it that way from now on. I use basil, pinenuts, walnuts, garlic, orange juice, nutritional yeast, and pink salt. So so so good and I wish I’d make a bigger batch.
I think we need the basic recipes in high summer because we can’t think due to the heat!! I don’t even refer to my recipe anymore and throw it together by eyeballing everything.
I definitely am going to adopt your approach of letting the pasta cool down a bit before adding the pesto. That makes a lot of sense.
If I plan on making enough to freeze should I omit the cheese and add it when it’s being used?
Hi. I make big batches, complete with cheese, portion into zip-lock bags, squeeze it down to the bottom with the back of a wooden spoon (like a cigar shape), roll it up and freeze. It keeps forever, no compromise with taste or color when thawed and easy to store. I put all the little zips into a gallon sized big zip. Pesto all year long!
Hi, I freeze pesto every year – just the basil, nuts and half the oil, when thawed add the garlic, cheese and the remaining oil and salt. Used to freeze it in silicon muffin cups then pop them out and bag them, but now have a collection of little half cup plastic tubs which I use. We’re deep in our winter in NZ and it is lovely to have something so close to fresh from the garden pesto on hand.
You can freeze it with cheese. I recommend adding extra oil to make sure the herbs are fully covered.
I freeze mine in silicone mini muffin tins or ice cube trays. Just too each one with a thing layer if olive oil. They pop them all out and put them into a gallon ziploc bag.
I also use ice cube trays and love being able to have precisely the amount I want every time for months. Silicone mini-muffin tins is a great idea.
Recently grilled boneless chicken breasts on a ridged square cast-iron griddle that goes over a stovetop burner, cut into cubes, and tossed with pesto that I had thawed in a bowl while the chicken cooked. Delicious hot and then delicious cold. I also love pesto with white beans as a side dish–huge hit at picnics (what are they?). Also makes a knockout potato salad.
Yes to pesto! I’ve been making it for years because my mom’s been making it for years and here’s what I’ve learned:
-any nut (except maybe peanuts) works fine. I’ve made it with pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews, and a lot of those I’ve fished out of trail mix
-if you don’t have much basil, you can replace it with kale. If you wanna get fancy, blanch it first to keep the color
-like nuts, any hard salty cheese will do. I’ve used everything from asiago to an old chunk of cheddar
-just, like, all the garlic
-don’t use purple basil. It tastes the same but it looks extremely unappetizing
Yay pesto! Pesto for everyone!
+1 on any nut/any cheese! We always make pesto with any nuts we have on hand. Lately we’re nuts for brazil nuts because they’re slightly creamy but still nutty -also without *gasp* (sorry Deb!) toasting.
Using different herbs also works well; it won’t be pesto genovese but it will definitely be delicious. :)
Another great use for pesto is to make a chicken de pesto. Created at Cafe Spiaggia in Chicago, it is an easy mashup of grilled chicken cut in cubes, golden raisins, pine nuts and pesto. Wonderful by itself or on an artisan bread.
I wasn’t confident this fit the purview of a pesto recipe, especially one that had already run long, but here’s a tip I skipped:
Some basil growing tips: I’ve had a little pot of basil on our terrace for each of the last 5 summers and what I have learned is that basil is very very easy to grow, however, there is a point (soon, if you started yours in May) where it’s going to flower, and at that point, it just doesn’t taste as good. You want to pull it before this happens. People will tell you to pinch the flowers but you cannot trick basil. It knows when it is its time and the flavor will still not be as good, plus the flowers come immediately back.
Here is what I recommend doing so you never run out, every week or two, press some more seeds into the soil so you can have a continuous run with basil (this is also good advice for cilantro, which has an even shorter leaf-to-seed cycle, and parsley, although it lasts longer before going to seed). Do I do this? Every summer I swear I will. I do it for about 3 to 4 weeks and then I forgot. Tl;dr: I got this basil from a grocery store.
aren’t the flowers themselves delicious ?
Yes – I add them to fresh chopped tomatoes w/ olive oil, salt, pepper – I skip vinegar/lemon juice.
I learned a cool pesto trick from Michael Chiarello that has made a huge difference in the color of the finished product: before putting the basil in the food orocessor with the other ingredients, blanch it in boiling water for 15 seconds then submerge it into ice water. It’s amazing how much fresher the pesto looks!
Hello there and thank you for all this valuable information regarding pesto. Including the difficulty we can have in getting the measurements right! And can we mention that pine nuts are expensive? There actually exists a Pesto Confraternity in Genoa, formed as far back as 1892 and they lay down the pesto law ha ha (which we are all free to break). Victor Hazan, Marcella Hazan’s widower, mentioned that she would always add a spoonful of butter at the very end when combining the cooked pasta with the pesto sauce. Also, I read that, when it comes to pesto, it is NOT the done thing to toast the pine nuts and lemon was never part of it in any case. The mixture of cheeses are pecorino and parmigiano and salt, yes yes yes. Anyway, about a couple of months ago when I decided I would make some pesto alla genovese I couldn’t for the ilfe of remember the proportions/weights and what have you and so read through all my notes. A very useful tip was that tradition requires 1 clove of garlic per 30 g of basil leaves. I went to the trouble of (yes!) counting 90 basil leaves and the weight came to 90g. So now, if I want to make a lot of pesto, I just rip off as many basil leaves as I think it takes and then measure them until I reach 90g. I use 50g pinoli. The cheese are two: both parmigiano (100g) and pecorino (120g). About half a glass of good quality olive oil. This pesto, which I started off with mortar and pestle and then got fed up and transferred to a food processor, was really very good, felt very proud. Then last week I went rogue and did away with the mortar and pestle and the result was … well, not so good, I ruined the texture of the pinoli (pine nuts). So your suggestion about being careful and pulsing is spot on. Thanks so much for that. LIke you, pesto for me is all about summer. Hopefully this time I’ll remember to make batches to freeze and use during a dreary winter day to cheer us up! The best ready made pesto on the market is apparently the Rossi brand. https://www.pestorossi.com/709-2/
IMO it’s OK to use the machine for the basil, olive oil and garlic, but it’s better to use a grater for the cheese, and a mortar for the pine nuts, their texture is important for the taste, i like the pine nuts to be very slightly chunky., then just mix everything by hand, furthermore, you can keep the basil+ oil and garlic mix separate, and add the cheese and pine nuts just before serving
Deb, looks yummy! I’ve been eating “green spaghetti” since I was a kid – my Dad’s family originated in the mountains above Cinque Terra (not far from Genoa). We’ve always used walnuts instead of pine nuts and include fresh Italian parsley along with the basil leaves – it helps ‘brighten up’ the sauce. We keep it in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top which helps cut down on the oxidation process. We also freeze it but if so, we eliminate the cheese and add it later. Try to stay cool :)
Do you have any pesto recipes for those with nut allergies? My son’s girlfriend is allergic to tree nuts- trying to find one I can make for her.
Hi, Jill, I’m cringing as I write this because I don’t want to direct traffic away from Deb’s site, but my son also has nut allergies and pesto is one of his favorite summer foods. I searched online and twopeasandapod.com has a decent nut-free pesto recipe we’ve been using this summer. I will always prefer the version Deb provides above, but if you need to avoid the nuts, that one works great—and I have frozen it with great results as well.
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) make a great pesto. Sunflower seeds probably would work as well.
If you process the olive oil too long it gets bitter and ruins the pesto. Best to just stir it in. I was blaming the basil for bitterness but it turns out it was blending the olive oil that caused the problem.
Seven Hills Pasta Company in MA creates an old school pasta like you described. Delicious and authentically made. Check them out!
THANKS! I found it at my local WF in MA – cannot wait to try it.
The pesto turned out great, could have eaten it straight from the blender.
I added it to my ‘Italian salad’ ingredients (pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, mozzarella minis, black olives). It will be tomorrow’s lunch.
Thanks for the wonderful recipe.
My mother-in-law uses walnuts and lots of fresh garlic in her pesto. She makes huge amounts of it and freezes it. We put it on everything!
Ha just the other day when I went to make pesto I thought to myself – I don’t think Deb has a pesto recipe! Thank you for adding one. I can’t wait to try it soon with the large amount of basil I’ve been growing.
Do you still dislike cold soups? I wondered because I am also living on tomatoes while they’re in season, but mostly in gazpacho form.
I’m coming around because I’ve now been to Spain twice, and it did the trick! I also have a Cucumber Yogurt Gazpacho with Mint, Almonds and Grapes in Smitten Kitchen Every Day that I am craving intensely this month. (I guess that brings me to six dishes — heh.)
Deb, I’m thrilled that you posted this. “Pasta Genovese” is a staple in our house (pasta with homemade pesto, diced and boiled potatoes and green beans tossed in). It’s one of the too rare meals that my whole family appreciates. I’ll try it with your pesto next time. =)
Thanks for sharing! Just last week I was thinking of making pesto and searched your site looking for a recipe. There are so many bland recipes lurking on the internet, but yours never disappoint. Can’t wait to try this one!
I actually love it when you post “basics” like this! I know I can trust your recipes to be well tested and have really clear instructions and answer all my questions before I even think to ask them, so it’s great to have more standard references that I don’t have to go searching/comparing a bunch of different sites for.
Our pesto game-changer (as suggested by an ATK cookbook) is to toast the garlic before pulsing in the food processor. To toast, you put the whole, unpeeled cloves in a dry skillet over medium high heat until they having some brown spots. Then slip the skins off and proceed! This completely mellows the raw flavor. It’s just a nice, rounded taste, and the extra step adds only about 1-2 minutes. Especially recommend this step if you find raw garlic overpowering in pesto.
Made this today – best pesto we’ve had in quite a while. Thanks so much for reasonable ratios and measurements of the ingredients!
But, fair warning for all attempting the traditional way of making pesto with mortar and pestle: it’s. a. pain. ;-) And worth it.
Deb, how does your pesto stay a lovely bright green color when mine always turns brown? I have tried blanching but don’t like the wetness of the leaves.
Do you add any acidic ingredient? Because without that, it should stay bright — I’ve never had an issue. However! When you take leftovers from the fridge, the very top edge will be brown. It’s fully bright green underneath, just give it a stir.
Honestly, half the reason I come here is for the reminder of– oh yeah, that’s a thing I can make. I love the simple ones, the ones that are basic and unbeatable.
Was planning to make pesto tonight all week and so appreciated a trustworthy recipe (including the pre-stemming weight!). Delicious and perfect on pasta with roasted summer squash. I did sub roasted sunflower seeds for the pine nuts, which worked great if you have a nut allergy to address. Thanks, Deb!
Have you tried blanching your basil before processing the pesto? It sets the color so the whole thing doesn’t turn brown. It still tastes amazing but it also looks pretty.
One thing to keep in mind when you are wondering if the the internet needs a recipe for X is that the internet is a vast and untrustworthy place, but people trust you! My kids have been trained that when you want to make something in the kitchen, you look through the recipe box or you go to smitten kitchen. So please don’t hesitate to keep putting somewhat obvious recipes on your blog. Thank you!
It’s SO hot & humid here in VA & I wanted pesto the other night to finish a serving of cooked, unsauced radiatore in the fridge. I’m also the laziest cook on the planet, so therefore the queen of shortcuts. I swirled a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and a little Earth Balance margarine on a plate and warmed in the microwave. I put a sprinkling of Trader Joe’s California garlic powder & some dehydrated chopped onion on that & added two Trader Joe’s frozen pesto cubes. Nuked lightly again, sprinkled a little sea salt, mixed it up w/ a fork, dumped already-cooked cold pasta on it plus a scattering of pignoli out of the freezer, nuked another minute & mixed, topped w/ grated parmesan, mixed, nuked and – Voila! The pesto equivalent of microwave mug cake. And it really hit the spot. This real version of Deb’s is undoubtedly superior, but for someone who hates to cook & is loathe to warm a kitchen I’m paying a small fortune to air condition, my lazy version was juuuust riiiight…
….? Pesto genovese doesn’t require cooking unless you add garnishes like the boiled potatoes or green beans.
….? I agree, I wouldn’t eat pesto just on its own, but only over cooked pasta or potatoes, which takes heating up the kitchen. I didn’t check the “I made this” box…just wanted to revel in the “Fearless Cooking” tagline of this marvelous site by admitting my culinary laziness & penchant for shortcuts & “mug pesto.” ;-)
Slight heresy, but my favorite pine nut substitution in pesto has been cashews. They’re very creamy and blend up beautifully, and the mild flavor does not compete with the much stronger basil and garlic.
This was excellent. I roasted the garlic briefly and added boiled fingerling potatoes and broccoli (because I didn’t have green beans) and it was very, very tasty. Definitely a go-to.
I don’t have four cups of basil–or a full-sized food processor for that matter–so I’m going to try cutting the recipe in half in order to use my beloved Oskar Food Processor. It has a hole to pour in the oil. You can make mayonnaise in it (you can, I just use Hellman’s) so I don’t see why pesto won’t work. I am so happy that you said not to use lemon juice because I used up my last one the day before yesterday and forgot to order more. The joys of pandemic cookery! I also don’t have pine nuts so I’m going to try this with walnuts and real, genuine parmesan cheese (from Italy, even). I so appreciate the precise measurements. I would never attempt this without them. You’re the best. Tomorrow I’m trying the one-pan (yes!) Farro with tomatoes.
You can absolutely do this fine in a mini-chopper. Depending on capacity, you may need to break it up into more than one batch. Just keep the proportions constant.
So good! We are currently without a kitchen scale so I had to eyeball the cheese (erring on the side of too much). I used less salt because that’s our preference–a total of a heaping 1/4 tsp–and less oil, about 1/3 cup. Added peas. Everyone in the family loved it, including my tiny 2yo who never eats. I want to try it again once we have our scale and add some more summer veggies.
I made this again with the scale measurements this time and it was even better–the flavor of the toasted pine nuts shown through. I made the same adjustments, but also added a little lemon zest. Instead of regular pasta this time, I made skillet gnocchi and added asparagus and peas the last minute or so of cooking, then tossed with the pesto. SO GOOD.
I love pesto, made with pine nuts. But since I don’t have a food processor, & the one time I made it using a mortor & pestle felt like too much work to
attempt again, I’ve simply not made it. And, I’ve rarely had it, since store-bought
pesto doesn’t appeal to me.
But this recipe said mincing ingredients using a knife is a possible method, so
I decided to try. I have a Japanese vegetable knife and it worked quite well –
easier than I’d imagined.
Only alteration I made was to add a small amount of the pasta water to the pesto before mixing it with the pasta.
It was delicious.
And, also this turned out to be a lesson about improvising. That is, it hadn’t occured to me that simply mincing with a knife would work!
I made this tonight. Followed the directions as written—I even used my scale to get everything just right. It was excellent! And easier than I thought it would be to make. I made all the mezze, too. Loved the zucchini. Wasn’t sure what to do with the beans—just drained and rinsed a can of cannellinis (not Goya!). They weren’t bad, but certainly not the star of the show. I’ve always wanted to make pesto. Thanks, Deb, for showing me the way.
I made this for dinner tonight and wow was it amazing!
If you’re going to store this for any length of time, even overnight, I really recommend blanching the basil first. I blanch for 30 sec, cool in an ice water bath, then use my salad spinner to remove the excess water.
Blanching keeps the basil green and prevents that murky color. I make large batches 2-3 times a year from homegrown basil and despite refrigeration and freezing, it’s still bright green months later.
This is just like my tried-and-true pesto recipe. I used to use walnuts, but I tried cashews this year, since we were out of walnuts, & I like it so much better! I mean, pine nuts are still the best, but cashews are a close second!
I also made it with my stick blender for the first time this year, mostly because I was too lazy to pull out the food processor, & it works so much better! I do the nuts/cheese/garlic first, remove, add basil & olive oil, then add the rest back in at the end.
You wrote,”Always leave some cheese on the site because you’ll want it to finish.’
Did you mean side?
Heidi Swanson (101 Cookbooks (.com)) has a recipe, “How to Make Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother”. (Worth the extra time and effort to make it by hand, imho.)
Amazing So Yummy & Delicious i will try at my home for sure.
You posted this right on time – a craving for pesto always hits me around this time of year too, and of all the recipes I’ve tried over the years this was the most straightforward and best. I did substitute untoasted walnuts for the toasted pine nuts, since that’s what I had on hand (and was too lazy to deal with toasting the walnuts even though it’s dead simple to do) – but the results were still better than any pesto I’ve ever tried making for myself. My problem in the past has always been getting the basil/garlin/cheese/oil ratio correct, and this recipe solved the problem perfectly.
Made this tonight, it was delicious. Did not have pine nuts, so toasted some walnuts I had on hand to avoid an extra trip to the store. Good thing I planted plenty of basil in my container garden this summer, this uses a lot!
Pesto is a summer staple. I often make it with sunflower seeds, since there are nut and almond allergies in my family. Tastes great as well. Enjoy the summer, dear Deb. Lara
Just thought I’d share that I made this today for my friend who just had a baby. Basil and cherry tomatoes from our garden, with the zucchini in red wine vinaigrette and some grilled garlic shrimp on the side. Making and delivering it completely made my day, and she was so happy and grateful. I of course made enough for my family to have some too, and it’s so good. The tomatoes give you nice little bursts of brightness, and the addition of cannellini beans is really smart, it gives you that protein hit to make eating a ton of pasta actually filling :)
Do you have a suggestion for making this pesto in bulk and then freezing it? Would you make it as described here and then just freeze in a bag? Or do you have another suggestion? I’d like to make extra and save for later!
Exactly that — bag or container. Maybe an extra splash of olive oil on top if the basil isn’t submerged.
Made exactly as written, without addition of zucchini. YUM! Loved the contrast of beans and pasta. Hadn’t thought about letting pasta cool a bit before tossing w/pesto (and some pasta water), but that was a smart idea. My kids eat anything with pearl mozzarella, Great recipe!
Nice blog to follow while preparing recipes.Thank you so much for sharing with us.
The perfect pesto. Don’t change a thing!
When I have visited the Ligurian coast, most pestos feature a blend of pasta and potatoes. It is a glorious combo. Just saying perhaps you could let readers know.
Hi there Smitten and Smitten fans! Am I losing my mind or wasn’t there at one time a basic pesto recipe on here that was shared from someone, like some award-winning basil recipe? That involved keeping the basil in ice water until you tossed it in the food processor? I could be totally off the mark, but I used it in the past and could have sworn it was from SK, but now can’t find it, ha.
No, it wasn’t from me. :(
I mentioned early on this thread that Michael Chiarello says blanch for 15 seconds then shock in ice water before processing.
No need to blanch- just made this and it was perfect and bright green made with sad clam shell containers of basil that were getting ready to die in the fridge. I subbed almonds because I don’t notice a difference with pine nuts and they are so expensive. Great recipe!!
I just watched Adam Ragusea’s video on pesto (which is very close to this recipe). He does the blanch to keep the basil bright green after it is in the sauce, but I think that is just for cosmetics.
I love this pesto recipe. It’s my new go to!
Thought I had Pesto down over the years but I decided to closely follow this recipe and it was the best I have ever made. Just straight forward and lovely
I’ve tried every “best” pesto recipe and now I can stop searching. This recipe has everything I was missing from other recipes and it turned out exactly how I like it. Thank you, Deb, for another fantastic recipe!
I just made this for lunch and it was pretty awesome. I added an extra garlic clove to make up for a small one, so it turned out spicy. My first taste from the food processor earned a great “wow!”. I was able to use a large amount of basil from the bush growing in our garden as well as kill some TJ precooked chicken leftovers in the fridge. I hope to get my kids to eat it tonight :-)
Made this with a sub of roasted cashews. Very good. I did half the salt. Used cavatappi (corkscrews).
I appreciated the suggestion of allowing the pasta to cool. I’ll serve it for dinner at room temp, that way I don’t have to worry about timing. Some cold roast chicken and watermelon makes this work for an August Sunday dinner.
Pecorino sardo, not romano! I’m not sure you can find it here in the US, though. Or maybe you can in New York.
I never knew lemon would discolor the herbs; I always thought it would keep them green! I will have to experiment…
Can I suggest the Pasta Grannies Facebook series? Several have produced trofie and the photos are helpful. Many other delicious thins are there as well.
Gosh do I hate asking questions about non-recipe recipes!! But….how much Parmesan by weight do you add to the pesto? The parmesan is listed by weight in the ingredient list but volume in the method. I had some leftover parm from another recipe that I was using so it didn’t fit either of your grating descriptions. I’m not super familiar with pesto (gasp!) so not sure what I’m going for here.